What I wanted most as a child was to be a grown-up, with all the adult privileges like staying up as late as possible, watching provocative movies on tv and drinking things that make you laugh and stumble.
I remember one September day when I was twelve-ish, my mom asked me what I wanted to be for Halloween – unquestionably seeking some advanced notice for rounding up the necessary fabric and rickrack. A ballerina possibly. Or a cowgirl.
But this year I decided I wanted to be a technical representative for Xerox, just like my dad. I wanted to wear a suit, a badge and carry a case full of files and tools and cigarettes. My mother didn’t protest, even though I think she was a little confused by my choice.
In lieu of a three-piece suit, we went with a button down shirt, brown pinstripe slacks, a shiny belt and big fat striped tie. This might have been the first time my dad taught me how to tie a double Windsor, a skill I’m sure no other sixth grade girl possessed. I fashioned myself a clip-on badge with markers and a rough drawing of a headshot. We filled a briefcase with a few tablets, a calculator, some ink pens and a Phillips head screwdriver. No smokes.
At the time, I really didn’t understand why I couldn’t bring a real pack of cigarettes to school as part of the get-up. We had three cartons of them in the kitchen cabinet. But I relented and thought I might make a few out of rolled up paper and scotch tape when I got to school.
The important part of the illusion for me was being male, being a grown-up man and a dad with a job. Just once, I wanted to know how it felt to be the one bringing flowers home to a wife or daughter. It was important to me then to break the rules about being a girl, being a kid and being a sort of skill-less freeloader, as most kids tend to be. I had skills, I had potential, I was mature and I wanted everyone to get that, just this once.
I wasn’t playing, I was an activist.
As it turns out, no one much ‘got it’ that day. My costume was met with a lot of furrowed eyebrows and tilted heads and accusations of being a hobo, which caused me to scrub off my homemade five o’clock shadow in the girl’s locker room at lunchtime. I mean, what kind of hobo wears a badge and carries a briefcase?
This wasn’t the first time I felt misunderstood. But deep down in my gut, I knew I stood for something and that felt very righteous to me. This might have been the tender turning point in my childhood when I started to reject kid stuff, like stuffed animals, dollhouses, and cartoon lunchboxes, in favor of wearing lip gloss and carrying a purse and reading the newspaper beyond the funny pages.
I had so much childhood left, but all I really wanted was to be a bona fide grownup.
Copyright Cynthia Berg 2017